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The Memphis Belle: A Story of a Flying Fortress

109 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

The Memphis Belle; is a World War II bomber, piloted by a young crew on dangerous bombing raids into Europe. The crew only have to make one more bombing raid before they have finished their duty and can go home. In the briefing before their last flight, the crew discover that the target for the day is Dresden, a heavily-defended town that invariably causes many Allied casualties.


Movie Guide Unabashedly sentimental, this war film was produced by David Putnam in partnership with Catherine Wyler, whose father William Wyler directed an acclaimed documentary about the real-life events depicted in the film. The ensemble cast is composed of ten young actors portraying the crew of the World War II B-17 bomber Memphis Belle, anticipating their 25th and last mission before they will be able to go home. Having won fame with their exemplary war record and amazing lack of casualties, they expect their final assignment to be a cakewalk, but instead they are ordered to bomb Bremen, a heavily defended German city that will mean almost certain loss of life. Led by their experienced captain, Dennis Dearborn (Matthew Modine), the crew shoulders its responsibility despite mounting fears, while their commanding officer (David Strathairn) and a public relations specialist (John Lithgow) wait anxiously for their return. Aboard the bomber, there's friction between Dearborn and his disgruntled co-pilot Luke Sinclair (Tate Donovan), and between medical officer Val Kozlowski (Billy Zane) and the rest of the crew when it's learned that Val lied about his qualifications. Despite impressive technical credits and a popular Generation-X cast, Memphis Belle (1990) was a box-office disappointment, its enthusiastic patriotism considered a throwback to a bygone era of filmmaking. --Karl Williams --All Movie Guide

Memphis Belle tells the story of the journey of several brave young Americans through an anthology of aviation movie cliches. Not a trick is missed - not even the faithful dog lifting its loyal head from the grass when a missing plane finds its way back to base. This movie is said to be based on a World War II documentary by William Wyler, but in another sense it is based on The Battle of Britain, One of Our Aircraft is Missing and countless other formula thrillers about the air war in Europe. The task of the filmmakers is thankless. They have to introduce a dozen crew members of the Memphis Belle, and then somehow make them all memorable within the cramped confines of a plot where most of them have to wear oxygen masks most of the time. The movie begins while we see the young men playing football, and a voice-over narration names them and provides them with thumbnail character sketches. Then, later, we learn what assignments they have onboard the Memphis Belle when the pilot holds a roll call and they sign in, giving their names and battle stations. The crew, we learn, has survived 24 bombing raids over Germany. One more, and they get to go home. The voice-over narration is by an Army Air Force P.R. man (John Lithgow), assigned to stage-manage the final raid for Life magazine. And given the fact that these man have flown 24 missions together, I hardly thought it necessary for them to introduce themselves by name to their pilot - but then the introductions really were for us, and the roll call was an economical way to explain their various jobs - co-pilot, radioman, navigator, tail gunner, bombardier, etc. Michael Powell used exactly the same strategy to introduce the bomber crew members in his wartime drama One of Our Aircraft is Missing, with the difference that he used a Wellington bomber, because its crew of six was easier for the audience to keep straight. He was right. The Flying Fortress used in Memphis Belle has such a large crew that the movie is fatally slowed as the screenplay works its way around and around the characters, trying to keep them all alive. Each character is a different cliche: the cool and calculated captain, the jittery gunner and his practical-joking sidekick, the superstitious one, etc. On the ground, the characters are equally machine made, from the taciturn commanding officer to the heartless general to the shameless flack. It would be safe to say there is not a single development in this movie that cannot accurately be predicted by any audience member familiar with the requirements of the genre. And yet, despite everything I have said, I found Memphis Belle entertaining, almost in spite of my objections. That's because it exploits so fully the universal human tendency to identify with a group of people who are up in an airplane and may not be able to get down again. As the flak flies, as enemy fighters attack, as wings are shredded and engines catch on fire and gun turrets are blown off, I found myself (a) mentally ticking off the cliches, but (b) physically on the edge of my seat. It was a classic case of divided loyalties: the intelligence maintaining its distance while the emotions became engaged. In a perverse sort of way, one of the appeals of Memphis Belle is in its adherence to dependable old cliches. This isn't a high-tech pinball machine like Top Gun, but a movie about people in a fairly primitive, piston-engine aircraft. Their uniforms are not glossy aluminum underwear, but leather jackets and fur-lined helmets and wool sweaters. When petrol must be moved from one wing to another, by God they pump it themselves. --Sun Times

Memphis Belle: (George Fenton) Depicting a heroic bomber mission in World War II, Memphis Belle is a tale of the final exploits of a bomber plane by the same name. With a gallant crew, the US Air Force B-17 bomber makes its 25th and final bombing run over Germany during concluding stages of the war. The story of the Memphis Belle is as exciting as it is heroic, with the famed planed nearly meeting with disaster before miraculously returning safely at the end. Thus, the film's glory is tapered by a significant feeling of somber suspense for nearly its entire length. Classically-inclined composer George Fenton is an expert in the realm of period scores, with historical British dramas at the heart of his accomplished career. For Memphis Belle, Fenton would be able to develop a remarkably romantic score amid a military backdrop, which is a dream come true for any composer. Additionally, Fenton would integrate several staples of 1940's pop and jazz music, and he would do so in such a fashion that the period source music would flow seamlessly into and out of his own orchestral compositions. Fenton would adapt Green Eyes and Amazing Grace very well into the pre-flight portions of the film, with the latter song occupying the vital sequence as the bombers prepared to make their last take-off into the scene of battle. Fenton also offers an adaptation of Danny Boy, which stands alone as a soul entry at the end of the Memphis Belle album, and doesn't match the musical styles of the film (even though it does match the attitude and emotions of the other music). The result of Fenton's integration of all of these elements into his score would be a work of heartfelt beauty that many film score collectors would continue to refer to as his best achievement for another decade. The romanticism in Memphis Belle swells with all the alluring style of classical lyricism and harmony. While the majority of the original cues for Memphis Belle are in the major key, Fenton inserts a handful of minor key motifs in order to accentuate the fright of the crew. The structural consistency of Fenton's themes and motifs, from beginning to end, cause these shifts between emotions to happen without the listener even noticing until he or she is hit with the emotional response. The score's weakness --although some would easily rate Memphis Belle as a flawless work-- is the score's slow build-up to the emotional plateau that Fenton maintains during the entire final flight of the bomber. A more powerful hint of the mission to come, as well as a deeper emotional response in the earlier cues, may have elevated this score to even greater heights. Even as it is, Memphis Belle takes hold of you without fail in its sixth cue on album (unless you are caught by the rendition of Amazing Grace in the previous cue), as the plane becomes airborne. The raw energy and enthusiasm of the driving bass strings and snare create a dominant, emotional hold over the listener from that moment on. After an interlude with one somber cue and another period song, Fenton presents over fifteen minutes of uninterrupted action and romantic success from the cue The Bomb Run through the magnificent End Title Suite. Fenton's ability to merge all of the major motifs and themes from the score into one suite at the end of the album is remarkable, making for a powerful and sometimes intoxicating melodic effect. While all of this action is going on, Fenton never loses the hint of swing that was inserted into the musical mix with the period songs; a slight jazz is evident in underscore during which the action is held to a minimum. --Film Tracks

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Special Features


Product Details

  • Actors: Robert Morgan, Vince Evans, Jacob Devers, Ira Eaker, Haywood Hansell
  • Directors: William Wyler
  • Format: Color, Full Screen, NTSC
  • Language: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Studio: A2ZCDS, Inc.
  • DVD Release Date: December 17, 2007
  • Run Time: 45 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (109 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B000WE64T0
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #291,209 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

66 of 66 people found the following review helpful By Rob Morris on December 30, 2001
Format: VHS Tape
This is, quite simply, one of the best wartime documentaries shot during WWII. It chronicles the 25th mission of 'The Memphis Belle" a B-17 and its crew that flew early in the air war over Europe when losses were staggering and survival of men and machines was doubtful over a 25-mission tour. Shot by William Wyler, the film is in full color, much of it shot in combat conditions over Europe. The narration is excellent.
This is not a very long film, but it is a must for anyone interested in the air war. I highly recommend another documentary to better understand the air war if you enjoy 'Memphis Belle'. It is called "Pistol Packing Mama: The Missions of a B-17", also available through Amazon.com. Taken together, these two videos will give the general viewer an excellent idea of the dangers of flying early in the war and of the resiliency and courage of the crews.
Do not expect the camera work to be smooth in the aerial combat sequences. Remember that the plane was shuddering with the recoil of its guns and also under instense fire. Also, the cameraman was probably having second thoughts about coming along on the mission at all! To me, the camera work only intensifies the drama of the battle.
Highly recommended. Not to be confused with the Hollywood version of 1990, with the same title. This is fact, that one is historical fiction. Both are worth your time.
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25 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Mark Clark on November 14, 2006
Format: DVD
When I first saw "The Memphis Belle" as a kid, I was absolutely riveted to the screen. This is the legendary movie that inspired a Hollywood film (not great but not terrible -- made just before digital effects came into the world that would have produced a far better film) and has become the touchstone document of what WWII was like for the bomber crews. It's been said that none other than George Lucas used Memphis Belle in the rough cuts of Star Wars to create battle sequences. One watching of this movie and you will understand why -- harrowing close calls and dead on the screen as B-17s tumble out of control, it just leaves you breathless. The moving commentary and score make it all that more amazing. It still blows all but the best that Hollywood made, such as "12 O'Clock High" off the screen. This deluxe edition version of the film is truly outstanding, and features several other films about the B-17 and has a wonderful recruiting movie starring who else but James Stewart, my favorite Hollywood actor.
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26 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Daniel Jolley HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on February 15, 2004
Format: VHS Tape
This wartime documentary celebrates the successful return of the B-17 bomber Memphis Belle, named after pilot Robert Morgan's girlfriend, from its twenty-fifth and final bombing mission over German soil, but it also makes clear the fact that this was only one of many such planes filled with heroic young men prepared to die for their country and for freedom. Director William Wyler basically takes the viewer through a typical day in the lives of the American men serving at an undisclosed air base in Britain. Ground crewmen prepare the B-17s for flight and load the bombs they will drop, pilots and crew receive their briefing on the mission ahead, death is delivered to the German homeland in the form of fire from the sky, and the pilots bring their bombers home - if they can. The bravery of the ten men who served onboard each B-17 bomber is beyond question; while these incredible airplanes earned the right to be called flying fortresses, each mission bordered on the suicidal. The bomber was a large and slow yet deadly aircraft; the pilots had to hold formation and concentrate on dropping their bombs amidst anti-aircraft fire from the ground, the pursuit and attack of much quicker German fighters, and constant bursts of flak all over the sky; with no fighter escort, the gunners stationed atop, behind, and astride each plane had their hands full trying to shoot down enemy planes. This film, built around actual combat footage taken from 16mm and 35mm onboard cameras, presents a telling and impressively realistic look at the incredible dangers all bomber crewmen faced.
Some speak about the propaganda aspects of this film.
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful By J. Moore on December 1, 2004
Format: DVD
The 1944 William Wyler film "Memphis Belle: A Story of a Flying Fortress" is a classic. Featuring some of the most compelling footage of the war in the skies over Europe, this version is, by far, the best looking I've ever seen.

While the "widescreen" version loses the top and bottom to fit, I personally think the "fullscreen" version (both of which are provided) looks crisp and sharp. The chapter notes provided with the set explain that the opening graphics were not available in original form at the Archives and National Air and Space Museum, so those portions have not been restored.

And the extra bonus footage is superb. I have some of the other Aircraft Films products (the F4U and F4F disc sets) and most of it has crisp, clear footage. I, too, would love to have more sound on future releases, but having the footage, much of which I've never seen and isn't available elsewhere, is very nice.

I recommend the set highly.
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